43 Police K-9s, SAR Dogs Flood Jackson

(Jackson, Wyo.) – Driving past the Flat Creek Inn the past few days, one might think there’s a serious drug smuggling operation being shut down. Police K-9s, yellow tape and cones swarm the area, with officers in and around the building and police vehicles filling the parking lot. What you’ve been scratching your head about all over town this week is nothing to be concerned over; the Teton County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) has partnered with the National Police Canine Association (NPCA) to host its 14th year of trainings, seminars and certifications for K-9 units in the region. Dave Hodges, the TCSO K-9 Coordinator, says 43 teams (teams include a handler and a dog) are in town from Montana, Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming for the week. Hodges said certifications are valid for one year in an area of expertise – explosives, narcotics, tracking, trailing and patrol (patrol dogs are trained in both handler protection and narcotics). Wyoming Highway Patrol currently has 11 active K-9s in the state, and ten teams are here in Jackson for the event, according to Captain Jim Thomas, Wyoming Highway Patrol District 3 Commander and head of the K-9 team of Wyoming. Thomas ensures all Wyoming K-9 units do both an internal certification once per year in addition to the external NPCA certification to always keep the teams up to standard. Along with the certification, handlers and their dogs are required to do a minimum of 16 hours of training each month. “Our dogs are really focused and have a good drive for the hunt,” Thomas said. “That’s what makes them so successful.” Thomas has handlers in the same districts train together, and he stresses being a team and eliminating egos so they can critique and help each other constantly improve. Deputy Sheriff and Bomb Technician from the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, Toby Buhler, and his black German shepard attended the seminar for explosives recertification. “There’s six total bomb dogs in Wyoming,” Buhler said, all of which are vetted and supervised by the FBI. “Most of the calls we get are V.I.P-related,” he said, such as the recent Wyoming GOP Convention attended by Ted Cruz and Governor Mead. They are called in for threats as well, including one last year at a Casper College basketball game that required shutting down and searching the stadium. Bonnie Whitman, a retired Yellowstone National Park ranger and a search and rescue volunteer since 1988, is one of the certifying NPCA officials in town from Bozeman, MT. Working with tracking K-9s, Whitman said to pass the certification tracking dogs were required to “track a 1-mile scent aged overnight, but the NPCA tracking trailing certification is designed for police standards,” which means also being able to track someone who’s fleeing an area quickly. “There’s nothing more fun for a dog than a hot track,” said Whitman, who tracks with her two German shepherd, Gator and Saber. Saber, who is 8 months old, isn’t ready for his certification yet, but 7-year-old Gator is adept at tracking on both land and water. He has pannus, an eye condition common in German shepherd that’s aggravated by UV light, so he tracks with a pair of specialty dog goggles called Rex Specs, designed for military and working dogs with UV protection in the lenses. The founders of Rex Specs, Jesse Emilio and Aiden Doane, are local residents and attended this week’s seminar to give handlers the opportunity to train their dogs with the protective eyewear. “It’s simple: if you’re protecting your eyes out in the field, your dog should be protected, too,” said Doane. All in all, Hodges said it’s been one of the best seminars they’ve produced to date. Chuck Halcom, currently serving as the main medic in the white house and the tactical field medic for all white house K-9s, gave the keynote speech and had a field station for handlers to brush up on their K-9 field medicine. Hodges credits the success of the seminar in the region to the impressive trainers and speakers like Halcom, and to the fact that this seminar isn’t just in a classroom but guarantees handlers time in the field for practice and certifications. After 14 years of working with a lot of the same teams, “you become family after awhile,” he said. *Feature Photo: Officer Brian Laas, an NPCA certifying official for patrol K-9s, speaks to fellow handlers as his dog, Beaker, waits for instruction. Article and Feature Photo h/t Emily Frazier.* #buckrail #news